According to Freud, everyone has an id, an ego, and a superego as part of their psyche. The id portion of a person’s psyche only cares about getting what it needs or wants in a timely fashion. The superego is where a person’s moral compass resides, and Freud’s ego holds the id and the superego in balance (AllPsych, 2004). Within the fairy tale “Little Thumbling,” by Charles Perrault, we can see how these three elements of the psyche contribute to the characterization of the story’s characters.
The easiest character to pinpoint with Freud’s theory is the character who demonstrates a prevalence of the id. In the case of “Little Thumbling,” the character with an overdeveloped id is the ogre. It is his desire for the meat of the seven boys that leads him to kill his own daughters, who he mistakes for Little Thumbling and his brothers. He is further driven by his id when he chases the boys down with his seven-league boots in attempt to both avenge the deaths of his daughters and to retrieve his dinner. He shows a disregard for his wife, leaving her home alone to pursue the boys, even though her daughters, too, are dead.
How much of Little Thumbling’s id and superego are held in the balance by his ego is debatable. The need that Thumbling is preoccupied with is the survival of himself and his brothers. Because of him, and his id, the ogre’s daughters are killed. But Thumbling isn’t ruled by his id. Using his ego, he considers his brothers and their well-being, and those thoughts drive his actions. I wonder, though, if Thumbling has an under-developed superego. He doesn’t seem to consider the repercussions of his actions—especially those that get the ogre’s daughters, who are, admittedly monsters, killed. His underdeveloped superego also is what helps him secure his family’s wealth. He doesn’t consider lying to the ogre’s wife to steal their fortune as an immoral act, thus allowing his family to live happily ever after.
The father, on the other hand, is more balanced, though still ruled by his id. With is superego, he realizes, though this is more evident in his wife, that abandoning his children in the forest isn’t the most honest of acts, but his own desire not to see his sons perish from hunger overrules his superego. We see the father’s superego in action when he rejoices because his boys have returned home.
AllPsych and Heifner Media Group, Inc. (2004). Id, Ego, Superego and the Unconsious in Psychology at AllPsych Online. Retrieved June 13, 2009 from http://allpsych.com/psychology101/ego.html.
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.